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AIDS Fear Sparks School Boycott in N.J.

October 24, 1985

WASHINGTON BOROUGH, N.J. (AP) _ A 9-year-old boy whose sister has an AIDS-related condition attended school Thursday, but more than half of his 200 fellow students were taken home by their parents, school officials said.

The boy, whose name is being withheld, was escorted into Washington Memorial School by his mother and a social worker before other students arrived, said James Broscius, an attorney for the school board.

He said he didn’t know how the parents got word that the boy was there, ″but they apparently had a good information network.″

The boy had been barred from classes when officials learned that his 5- year-old sister suffers from AIDS-related complex, a medical condition that doctors say can be a precursor to the deadly acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

The state ordered the school to admit the boy, but the school board at first refused, taking the case to a New Jersey appeals court.

The appeal is still pending, with school officials arguing that they, not state officials, should decide whether a child attends school. But the board meanwhile reached a compromise with the 9-year-old’s parents, deciding to admit the boy as long as he receives a monthly medical examination.

″We tried to educate the people that this was a healthy child and there was no legal basis, in fact there was no basis, to keep this child out of school. The parents did not react well to the news,″ said Broscius.

Debbie MacIntosh said she left work Thursday to take her son out of school.

″This is a little problem and the big problem is around the corner,″ Mrs. MacIntosh said, referring to the boy’s sister. ″We’ve got to stop it now.″

The boy’s sister is not yet attending school, and plans for her education have not been completed.

The board attorney said the panel has not decided how to deal with the parents’ protests. Broscius said the decision would depend on whether attendance changes over the next few days.

″If the problem resolves itself and the children return to school, the board will be very happy,″ he said.

Pat Steingall, a nurse, decided to keep her first-grade son in school.

″We’ve got to get someone in here that can actually talk to the parents and tell them there is no danger for the kids,″ she said.

AIDS attacks the body’s immune system, leaving the person vulnerable to disease. It can be spread by sexual contact, shared hypodermic needles and blood transfusions.

Seymour Weiss, director of the Division of Controversies and Disputes in the state Education Department, said that he considered the parents’ protest a local issue, but that the youngster ″has every right to be in school.″

″We’re trying to emphasize that this little boy is perfectly healthy,″ said Howard McGinn, an attorney representing the boy’s family. ″He wants to be in school.″

He said the boy and his sister were adopted by the family last summer.

Stephanie Burdge, who attends sixth grade, said she left school because she believed ″he could use a ball that we use and sneeze on it and we’d get it.″

Her friend, Vanessa Fleming, added, ″I don’t feel safe.″

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